Military life can be hard and requires a lot of sacrifices. Military life forces you to be independent. To be able to handle many of life’s curveballs without the typical support system that many of our non-military affiliated peers enjoy.
Having a support system is absolutely life and marriage-saving, especially when there’s a third party calling the shots, instead of you and your spouse. This unique kind of isolation has the potential to lead to desolation which is why it is so important to put people around you who both understand this lifestyle and can support you as you navigate through the uncharted waters that surround your service to your country.
We are lucky to be living in the age of social media. Platforms like Facebook have and continue to help military spouses looking for advice and friendship and help them and their families adjust to their new homes. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see PCS pages and spouse pages permeating Facebook and filled with such questions as “tell me how the housing is?” or “I have so and so many kids, what kind of schools are near base” or “new to Fort So and So and looking for friends.”
It sure as hell makes making and keeping friends a bit easier. Depending on what installation your family is assigned to, there are also various activities and groups that have been created with the spouse and family in mind. You can also meet other parents at school-related or sports-related activities. Then there is the timeless classic of simply going next door to meet your neighbor, a kind of jam that was typically how people met before the advent of social media.
Friendship is essential to the soul. We were not created to be isolated creatures but instead depend on each other for love, validation, and support. As I mentioned before, making friends within this lifestyle can be life-saving. For many of us, our friends and neighbors are the only means of support that we have away from family.
When my husband first joined up, we were stationed in Hawaii for three years. We had two small children at the time and were nowhere near either one of our families. My husband would often have overnight duty or have to go to training for weeks to months at a time.
I worked part-time and when I left that job, I went back to school to finish my graduate degree. Having supportive neighbors and great friends made the entire experience of being that far away from family so much more enjoyable. There were people who understood what I was dealing with as a military spouse, who could vent with me about all the crazy things the Army did, and with whom I could simply enjoy my time.
We babysat each other’s kids, scheduled play dates together, went to the movies together, and even just sat on each other’s patios and talked for hours. We supported each other’s small businesses even if we didn’t quite understand it. We’d meet up at the pool or do a beach day together.
If any of us was having a hard day, there was always someone to talk to about what was going on. As a young spouse, I grabbed hold of the experience and the knowledge that more seasoned spouses had to offer. I learned how to navigate and respond to the Army’s foolishness and how to go about navigating things like the school system, registering my vehicle, preparing for another move, and finding things for my kids to do outside of school. These women were my lifeline and I would’ve been completely lost without them.
So how did I nurture these relationships? We all know that the constant thing about military life is all the change. We all eventually left that paradise and came back to the real world aka the continental US. Changes, such as moving can make it very easy to lose touch with people when the place that brought you together is gone. While it is my belief that not all relationships are meant to last, that certain people may only be in your life for a spell and then they dip, it’s still crucial to nurture those relationships while you can.
Here’s how you can start.
- Live on installation at least once. Okay so this is not a way to nurture relationships per se, but it is a way to get a few good ones going. I have lived on and off installation multiple times and I will say from experience that living on post or base gives way to making and sustaining military friendships a hell of a lot easier. Living on base or post will surround you with other military families, making it easier to find people with whom you have much in common and who can share in unique comradery. Depending on how active your neighborhood, housing, and/or garrison is, there will be plenty of opportunities to meet people. When we were stationed in Hawaii, I met my friends through the Facebook spouse page, in my neighborhood, and through my kids whose friendships paved the way for my friendship with their parents. We also found it easier to spend holidays with one another so we really all became like a big family which was so helpful in acclimating to this new lifestyle.
- Find and attach yourself to people who share similar interests. It can be easy to meet and be friendly with people who live around you. But then when you and/or they leave, what then? It’s important to be intentional about the people you choose to bring into your life and for the sake of sustaining and nurturing these relationships, finding people who have similar interests to yours is key. Having things in common will allow you all to share in something else beyond being stationed in the same place. Those common factors remain the same when the scenery is changed.
- Find and attach yourself to people in a similar stage of life. This might be a risky choice but hear me out. As a mom, it can be challenging to relate to people who do not have children, especially when there is an age difference. Not to say that parents and non-parents cannot be friends, but when you are placed in a location due to your spouse’s job and not yours and you are the one who is primarily responsible for caring for children, it is helpful to surround yourself with people who get that responsibility. Parents need so much support with kids and even with self-care when taken away from family and other support they might be used to. They also share the task of having to help children adjust from a move to a new environment, new house, and new school.
- Communicate your needs. When we moved to Colorado, we decided to buy a house, but the house was everything we didn’t need or want at the time. I was ashamed of this decision and almost dropped off the face of the Earth, refusing to talk to anybody. This was a poor decision because I lost touch with people whom I had worked so hard to get close to at my previous duty station. Looking back, I could’ve handled that situation so much better, and knowing what I know now, that that behavior was caused by anxiety, I could’ve found a way to communicate my needs to my friends. Be sure to continue to reach out to people despite personal stuff that might be going on, and if you need a break or time away from talking to people for whatever reason, let your friends know! They will appreciate your honesty, then wonder why you never reach out anymore. No one I know at least responds well to neglect.
- Check up on it! This one goes hand in hand with number 4. And it kind of goes without saying but it’s so important to keep in touch! Don’t just say it but make a plan to do it! There are so many ways to stay in touch these days, from email, to phone, to social media, and then there’s always trusty old paper and pen. Plan a time on the calendar to talk and catch up. Text each other every now and then to check in on the other person. Engage in a video call and watch a movie together. Heck, maybe even make a plan to visit each other. Point is, that it’s important to be intentional about keeping your friendship alive and to act on it.
- Continue to share what brought you together in the first place. Did you bond over a love of cooking, or maybe being two of the only working moms on your block? Did you meet while on the same softball team, or bump into each other browsing for books at the library? It’s important to continue to share in those interests, even when far apart. Set up a time to cook your favorite meals together or even just cook dinner together virtually. Send each other recipes. Join or start an online book club and commit to reading the same book at the same time, getting together to discuss it. Create a workout plan together and keep each other accountable. Make a commitment to continue to share in those activities that made you friends.
- Send a token of your love and appreciation. Gifts, giving, and receiving, are considered a love language for a reason. Most people like them and feel appreciated when they receive the right one. Remember birthdays, holidays, and other special days when you all can send each other a card or something sentimental to let each other know how much you appreciate one another.
- Work on a project together. Military spouses often struggle with the typical career path since our lifestyle takes us to a variety of different places. Most spouses I know tend to stick with jobs where they can set their own hours and work from anywhere. Or they may work in positions that allow for easy transfer. Many spouses become entrepreneurs, often finding creative ways to make an income such as making artwork or home decor or running a photography business. In either case, we are creative and intelligent folk, and it’s only natural that we would continue to grow those skills over time. Working on a project together may be a fun way to both make a little money or spread a little influence and nurture your friendship. Just recently my friend and I have agreed to work on a podcast together. We hope to inspire other moms and military spouses of color but also to spread a little influence where we can. And if all else fails, we will still have a ton of recorded hilarious conversations. I call that a win-win.
Perhaps the most important thing that will nurture friendships with other military spouses is to remember each other. It can be so easy to get caught up in the craziness of everyday life that we often forget to check in with others and commit to keeping that friendship alive. This is not to say that you should hound your friends.
Remember to be the kind of friend you want to have. Give grace and space when it’s needed and don’t take things too personally. We all have lives and are busy and sometimes you won’t always hear from someone when you think you ought to. But it’s still important to remember each other, to pray for each other, or send good vibes to each other, especially in these uncertain times.
Life is hard. The military doesn’t make it any easier. And honestly, we are all we got! Let’s make those chance, one in a lifetime friendships last a lifetime.